Thursday, October 06, 2011

..and all I got was this lousy iPhone

My ex, whose intellect impresses me less all the time, posted today, "All I can say is thank you Steve. You made the world a better place and will be missed."

Better? Really?

Well, he gave boys great toys and what's not better about that?

Glad you asked. Where do I start?

Let's go back to 1976. I grew up surrounded by electronics. My father had an electronic music recording studio in the house. I was fascinated by it.

I entered high school at 13 and signed up for an electronics class at high school. Big mistake.

Whenever I entered the room, jumping, grabbing boys yelled 'HEY GIRL HEY GIRL GIRL GIRL GIRL GIRL GIRL WITH THE PINK COMB GIRL GIRL GIRL.' The teacher did nothing. I got no help from anyone. After six weeks, I dropped the class.

And that is the point where my life story and that of every male geek I have ever met, loved or worked with irrevocably part ways.

I took programming and math classes at a university when I was 15 and 16. But I never quite believed in myself and no one around me ever did either. No one saw the potential. I was a girl, at the age where the pressures to develop into a suitably fuckable cunt become crushing. I did not escape its effects. I abandoned tech.

I did come back to geekery after ten years of typing letters for a living, at the behest of my mother, amazingly enough, who had put together a satisfying consultancy writing database applications. I often assisted her performing surgery on computers, fixing up corrupted datafiles in the hex editor, and writing DOS batch file programs. It was her who urged me into IT and I am glad she did.

But over the years since I, as an adult returning student, graduated in the mid-90s, the tech world has remained a white-boys-only club. In every shop I've ever worked in there was a core clique of white males who ran everything. They got the good jobs, the promotions, the good work and everyone else in the IT department, the Chick, the Black Guy, that Guy Whose Name We Can't Pronounce, The Lower Status Non-Warcraft Playing Males, got the crumbs. People with no more intelligence or talent than I rise in IT through the compelling power of the trouser snake.

So back to Steve Jobs. Jobs built a technological and business empire on the firmest of foundations, the narratives that structure our world. He was able to harness the archetypes of white-boys-with-toys, the male wizard bending the physical and social world to his will, the lone visionary. None of Job's unique catalyzing talents would have made the least difference if he hadn't had a dick and were he not, to white peoples' way of seeing, drained of ethnicity. (I saw a friend today who knew him personally. She told me, "Did you know he was Syrian? He was adopted." No, I did not. Jobs, like Ralph Nader, was socially bleached.)

They say Steve Jobs had a 'reality distortion field.' But he did not distort mine. There is a glass ceiling in my field, one that all of my male friends and colleagues floated through, supported by The Narrative and their lower-earning, non-techie, totally unthreatening wives. On the job I was the Perl 'queen,' the PHP 'queen,' the regular-expression 'queen,' the go-to person to solve thorny problems, but I was marginalized and made 10% to 20% less than the men (and those are just the cases I know about.) The past 25 years have been presided over by the likes of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Linus Torvalds and Mark Zuckerberg, men who are held up as the geniuses and the leaders. I feel the effect of that every single day.

Jobs, by all accounts, was an amazing human being and definitely will be missed by friends, family and colleagues. But let's not exaggerate. He did not make the world better or even much different. He (however inadvertently) reinforced the narratives and the archetypes that hold me and millions of others back. It's still a sexist, racist, homophobic, imperialist oppressive shithole of a world...and all we got was this lousy iPhone.

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